The party slowly assembled in a large meeting room on the Genoa naval base. When the girls arrived the GOI contingent were sitting around drinking coffee and one or two were smoking despite the prominent no-smoking notices. A sergeant approach her and told her in broken English that he was in charge of the contingent and asked when the British SIS agent would arrive. She replied in English that she was the SIS agent in charge and heard sniggering and comments in Italian from behind her. Before she could say a word the, first three SAS men arrived still in their civvies. Steven walked straight up to her and saluted and said, “Good afternoon, Ma’am. Sgt. Williamson reporting with the first of our troop. Is everything in order Ma’am?” Jinnie replied, “Yes thank you Sgt. I was just about to introduce myself to the GOI men. I will do so now while your men get your uniforms on. When are the rest of your troopers due to arrive?” Steven looked at his watch and said, “90 minutes Ma’am, their flight was on time when we left Gatwick.”
The SAS headed off to change and Jinnie said to the GOI Sgt, “Bring your men to attention Sgt. I will address them now.” The Sgt. called them to a reluctant sloppy attention and said to Jinnie, “I will translate for you.” Jinnie knew that might be her only chance to get the Italian’s respect she took a deep breath. Using all the command training received in the Officer Cadets and switching to her fluent Italian she replied, “No need thank you Sgt. as you can see I speak and understand Italian.” Turning to the GOI men she said, “I am Mrs De Luca but you will follow the SAS troopers and address me as Ma’am. Like it or not this is a British SIS mission and I am in charge and you will obey my orders instantly. Sgt Williamson is my second in charge and you will all report to him. Now, if you don’t like it you can stand down from this mission now, but please note I am a personal friend of your prime minister and you will be confined to barracks here until the mission is over.”
Not a soul moved. The fact that she had an Italian name and spoke to them in perfect Italian had stunned them. Jinnie continued, “Right, at ease and be seated, I what to run through the mission and discover how well you have been briefed.” At that moment the three immaculately dressed SAS men silently entered the back of the room. Jinnie saw them and said in English, “Sgt. Williamson please join me, I was just explaining that you are second OC and I wanted to check how well briefed they had been.” Steven replied, “Certainly Ma’am”. Joining Jinnie at the front of them he spoke to her in his very quiet voice, “We all speak a little Italian Ma’am and we heard that, I think you have got them now.”
Despite their overall sloppiness the Italians appeared to have been well briefed and knew the mission. The two sergeants were dividing up tasks when the final four SAS troopers arrived. Jinnie thought, ‘Now if I had seen these man at the airport I would have nailed them.’ Once changed into their uniforms she looked at the collection of special forces in front of her and thought, ‘Well I wouldn’t want to bump into this lot on a dark night.’
Steven asked about weapons, as they had been on civilian flights they were supposed to be supplied by the Italians. They were taken to the armoury. Jinnie and Penny both immediately chose Glock 17s and Penny also picked up an automatic rifle that she felt was very similar to the SA80. The armorer explained while Jinnie translated that it was a Heckler and Koch model left over from German occupation and the SA80 was a similar weapon first produced in Britain under occupation. Jinnie found an Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Sniper rifle which the armourer said they had for evaluation. This was the British sharpshooter rifle. Jinnie and Sgt Williamson decided that having a long-range weapon might be very handy. The SAS men all picked up Glock17s, the Armorer suggested they take the more modern Glock 19 but they preferred what they were familiar with. The also picked American M4 carbines as they had used them on exchanges with American special forces. The Italians all had Beretta APX 9mm pistols, the Italian weapon was their standard sidearm matched with an M4 carbine. Steven was happy, it meant that both the British and Italians would be using the same ammunition. Then the SAS picked out what they called specials. Each man took several hand grenades. Into huge backpacks disappeared night vision goggles, plastic explosives, and flash-bang grenades. Finally someone picked up an M203 grenade launcher and last but not least a Panzerfaust 3 anti-tank launcher and about a dozen rockets. This was another weapon left over by the Germans.
The Italians were stunned by the weight and selection of armaments the SAS had selected, asking if they intended to start a war. Williamson replied, “No not start one, but to be equipped to fight one if necessary.” Jinnie called it a day and they all headed for dinner. A special separate dining room had been set up for them to try to keep them away from other servicemen. The Italians had begun to warm to the SAS when it became obvious they knew what they were doing. It could not be said the same applied in reverse. The SAS were still wary of the GOI, worried by their casual attitude and what they perceived as a general lack of professionalism.
Sunday morning was spent by the SAS cleaning and oiling their newly acquired weapons and checking out their equipment. Jinnie and Penny joined them but the GOI were very casual, saying their weapons were always in first-class condition. Jinnie asked if there was a shooting range on site and spent a fruitful hour zeroing in her chosen sharpshooter rifle. They then had a couple of hours snooze before being bussed to the jumping-off port. Steven and Jinnie chatted about the mission and the Sgt. expressed his fears that the GOI might be more of a hindrance than a help. Only half-jokingly, Jinnie said, “I will shoot any one of them that gets in the way of the mission.”
The busses reached the little port of Ventimiglia as dusk fell and Jinnie was pleased to see that at least the Italian Navy was on the ball. Three high-speed launches were tied up alongside with their engines ticking over. Steven chuckled and said to Jinnie, “Spoils of war, they are German and still in Kriegsmarine colours. Now that might be an advantage in a fight.” He then suggested that the troops be split between the launches so that there were SAS and GOI in each boat. That Jinnie, he and the Italian Sgt. should take a boat each and that it was perhaps best if Penny were in the same boat as him. Jinnie instantly saw the sense in what he was suggesting and agreed.
The boats slipped out of the harbour as darkness took over from twilight and were soon racing west. Shortly after passing into Third Reich waters, they heard an aircraft and one of the crewmen told them to stay in the cabin as a German coastal patrol aircraft was around. It must have assumed the boats were still under German command as it continued on its way. Just before midnight they were landed on a lovely sandy beach and headed carefully towards a green light that occasionally flashed towards them.
Simone greeted Jinnie with a kiss on both cheeks and led her to a collection of cars, vans and a greengrocer’s lorry hidden in a small wood. A dozen or so resistance fighters drawn from Nice and Menton were already there waiting for them. The sisters, Steven, the Italian sergeant and Simone had a quick discussion. It was decided that they didn’t need such a large party and Simone’s surveillance of the Gestapo HQ had revealed that there were never more than four or five of them there overnight. She produced road maps pinpointing the target and sketch maps of the internal layout produced by electricians who the previous year had to rewire much of the building’s ancient electrics. Jinnie thanked Simone and told her to send all but six of her resistance fighters home as they were surplus to requirements. They already had the the Germans outnumbered by at least 4 to 1. Then Jinnie suggested Simone should also head home, if anything went wrong she wanted Simone safe to lead the resistance another day. Reluctantly, Simone agree and was driven off to Menton station to catch a train to Nice. In reality Jinnie would have loved to have had Simone at her side but could not have lived with herself if something went wrong and little Juliette had lost her mother.
The force was once again spread out over the various means of transport ensuring that the commanders were separated. The vehicles set off in a staggered order, it might look suspicious if they traveled in either a convoy our one every minute. Arriving at the RP they left the transport under the guard of their drivers and a GOI private who had a tactical radio. The group set off the short distance to their target in ones and twos. The attack team, their perimeter defence and backup were in place by 1:30 and sat back to watch movements. Jinnie was on the roof of a disused warehouse on the other side of the square that gave her a full view of the front of the building and prepared the sharpshooter rifle to give covering fire to the entry party who were armed with the anti-tank weapon that was to blow the front door open.
The minutes until the coordinated attack time ticked by incredibly slowly. Steven was leading the first group into the Gestapo building and had issued orders to shoot on sight, there were to be no witnesses to describe who or what had hit them. The plan was to secure the building, empty the cells as quickly as possible, call in the transport and sort out who they had got on the way back to the boats. Anyone who was not a member of the resistance would not be taken onto a launch, but instead left for the local resistance to deal with. They didn’t expect there to be many, if any, in this category as the word was that the dozen or so cells had been emptied out of common criminals to make space for the resistance men.
Jinnie jumped when a light in a window on the first floor flicked on and made her night vision goggles flair. It was followed seconds later by a light in a small window which Jinnie realised was a toilet. A minute later the light went out followed by the original light. Penny whispered into Jinnie’s ear, “Someone has a small bladder.” Through her NVGs Jinnie could see Steven briefing a trooper and pointing out the window where the light had been. She was pleased to see he was on the ball again.
Her watch ticked around to 02:00 and a trooper with the anti-tank gun stepped out of a shadow, launched a rocket. Jinnie ensured she was facing away from the door and watching the trooper, whose colleague was reloading with a fresh rocket. There was no need, the door had disappeared and SAS and GOI men were across the square and in the door in seconds. Jinnie listened for shots but didn’t hear a single one, but she did hear a series of smaller explosions as Steven’s men used small charges to blow open cell doors.
Someone in the building must have given the word because the first car raced into the square as the first prisoner was helped out of the door, swiftly followed by a second. Both were bundled into the car before it shot off to be replaced by a van. From her elevated position, Jinnie saw Steven emerge and give her the thumbs up her signal to withdraw. However, she could see a blue light heading towards the square reflecting off the buildings of the street it was coming down. She swung the rifle to the point where the police car would emerge into the square and the moment it did she fired two rounds into it. She must have hit something important because it crashed through a shop window. As she ran down the stairs and out onto the square she saw two things, Steven directing a trooper to throw a satchel charge into the building and three GOI men climbing out of the shop window sheaving large commando knives. They all leapt into the greengrocer’s truck, one last check over the tactical radio net that everyone was away and the truck headed for the coast road.
Jinnie checked her watch, from start to finish the raid had gone like clockwork and to her surprise only four minutes had elapsed. The truck was on the costal motorway before they saw the flash followed by the bang of the demolition charge. At that time of the morning the road was deserted and the local driver put his foot down. Steven made another quick check over the net and all was well, no one had yet reacted. Jinnie asked if anyone was injured and Steven said, “No,” he explained the explosion had come as a complete surprise to the Germans. The two on duty in the front office had been stunned and his party had finished them off silently. The guy who had been to the toilet was caught trying to get his trousers on and the only other Gestapo man in the building had been caught trying to slip out of a back door by one of the GOI who had proved quite ruthless in action.
The truck had passed Monte Carlo when the next flash message came over the net. The first car had arrived at the RP, all was OK at the moment and they would put out sentries. Over the next 10 minutes more parties checked in, leaving only the truck still on the road. The local resistance drivers were released as soon as they dropped off the soldiers at the RP and headed off back to Nice and Menton.
The next message came just minutes before they reached the RP. This time it was not good news, they were under attack from a German patrol and the launches were reluctant to come in to pick them up until the fire was suppressed. The half dozen soldiers and Jinnie dismounted and came in from the rear of the patrol. They had the anti-tank team and the Sharpshooter rifle so were well equipped to help. They quickly spotted the fire fight and Jinnie took up a position looking down on the Germans from behind. Steven acted as her spotter and picked out the Stabsunteroffizier in charge and took him out. At almost the same time the patrol’s truck exploded as its engine was hit by an anti-tank rocket. The driver who had been left on guard didn’t last much longer.
The GOI had got the M203 grenade launcher set up. The first round fell a little short but the next five cleaned up the rest of the German patrol. Steven called the boats in, expressing the need for urgency as the patrol had almost certainly called in reinforcements and they had no idea how much time they had. The Allies had suffered two casualties, fortunately both were minor. One SAS trooper had been hit in the chest but the ceramic plate of his body armour had saved him, he was winded, bruised and possibly suffered a broken rib but his life was in no danger. The other casualty was Penny who had a flesh wound in her upper left arm where she had been clipped by a ricochet. By the time Jinnie’s group joined them, Penny’s arm had a field dressing on it and she was in good spirits knowing the wound wasn’t serious. Jinnie told her if she was an American she would get a Purple Heart, but the British don’t have an equivalent.
The boats arrived and the Allies and resistance men just piled in even if some of the French appeared to be struggling as they had been tortured. The boats backed out into the surf, swung around and accelerated away. They were probably two miles from the pickup point when Steven pointed out headlights nearing their RP. As they were running without lights and it was a dark night there was little chance of them being spotted. Every minute they were getting further from the site of the firefight and were safer. Jinnie said to Steven if she were in charge of the reinforcements she would be very careful approaching the battlefield just incase they were laying wait for them or it was booby-trapped.
They all took a breath of relief when they crossed into Italian waters and spied the lights of Ventimiglia ahead of them. It was still dark but the lights of two ambulances were awaiting for their casualties. Despite protests that they were perfectly OK, the two casualties and three of the resistance fighters were whisked off to a military hospital. Everyone else boarded minibuses for the trip back to the Genoa naval base for a debrief.
The resistance men were anxious to discover who had betrayed them. They were relieved to discover that the spy was not one of the resistance fighters and accepted Jinnie’s assurances that he had been identified and would suffer the full weight of the law. The debrief offered no reason as to how the RP had been spotted. It was concluded that it was just bad luck and a random patrol had spotted them.
Part way through the debrief a taxi arrived with Penny and the trooper. Both had been X-rayed and found to have no broken bones. The trooper had been saved by his body armour and was just badly bruised and had been prescribed painkillers and told to see the MO back in Hereford. Penny had three stitches in her arm and a large plaster covering the wound. She had been given an antibiotic injection, as a precaution, and told to get stitches removed in 10 days. The three resistance men had been kept in, none were seriously injured but had several nasty open wounds and electrical burns which needed to be carefully observed.
The resistance men were all anxious to get back into the fray but Jinnie had been asked to get several of the leaders back to the U.K. for briefing and training. Jinnie spent some time talking to them and they all agreed the senior leaders would fly to London. The juniors would stay in Italy for a while, receive some military training before being reinserted into France with new identities, but in areas where they were unknown, and put in contact with local groups.
There was not so much secrecy about the trip home and the whole party were on the same BA flight from Genoa back to London. Jinnie was the first of the group to check in. The Italian girl in BA uniform on the check-in desk consulted a list as soon as she saw Jinnie’s passport. She said, “Mrs De Luca, I am pleased to tell you that you and all your party have been upgraded to Business Class.” Jinnie thought, ‘That’s the PM using his influence again,’ before the girl continued, “I can tell you we have had a special request from the Italian Government.”
The SAS troopers were delighted at the upgrade and to a man chose a steak from the short menu on the flight, but it was the free drinks that most impressed them, a beer before the meal, wine with the meal and so many cans of beer after the meal the crew had to raid the Economy stock. The resistance unsurprisingly stuck with wine and were surprised when told it was English. Penny, stuck with coke as she was worried about mixing alcohol and antibiotics. Steven and Jinnie were both cautious, as the command party, they needed to stay sober so apart from wine with the meal, they followed Penny and drank coke.
At Gatwick there were several unmarked busses for the troops who where deplaned first and led to a back door. Jinnie wondered why so many busses were needed, but soon realised other parties were flying in from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Jinnie shook hands with Steven and wished him well as his and other troops boarded the busses for Hereford. The resistance men were taken off in an unmarked car to who knew where. Finally, the girls headed towards the station having decided to get a train into London and pick up Jinnie’s car. As they walked across the arrivals area two men stepped in front of them and the taller of the two flashed an MI5 identity card saying, “Mrs De Luca, Miss Walsh, please come with us.”
In Chapter 20 – Trattoria Trevi.
© WorthingGooner 2022